Palestinian Authority Rounds Up 300 Hamas-linked Suspects, but Still No Lead on Attackers

NABLUS - Palestinian Authority security forces responded to the shooting death of four Israelis Tuesday by rounding up more than 300 Hamas activists in the West Bank yesterday, the largest such raid in a decade.

About 80 activists were arrested in Hebron, and more arrests were made in Bethlehem, Tubas, Salfit, Qalqilyah, Jenin, Jericho and Nablus.

Despite the arrests, a Palestinian security official told Haaretz the PA had no leads on the identity of the group that carried out the attack near Kiryat Arba. The shooters appear to be members of Hamas, but their geographic origin remains unclear.

The source said the PA security forces were operating in a complicated situation since the attack was carried out in Area C, which is under Israeli military and civilian control.

"It's not an excuse, but you can appreciate it's difficult for us to understand what happened there when we can't approach the actual scene," the source said. He also said opposition groups were trying to encourage popular resistance to the peace process together with militant action. The source said the raids will continue, as the PA tries to allow the negotiations to continue.

The West Bank raids were prominently reported on Hamas websites and were a hot topic in the Palestinian street. In Nablus, eyewitnesses said, predawn raids were conducted in the homes of people with even the most basic affiliation with Hamas.

A businessman from Nablus city center, Marwan a-Nabulsi, told Haaretz yesterday that the raids damaged the PA's standing, since they were conducted in the middle of Ramadan, a month in which each man is supposed to be with his family.

"You've got to remember that Hamas hardly has any visible presence in the West Bank, it's almost non-existent, so this seems almost like abuse," Nabulsi said. "People see this as just temporary arrests for show."

A member of the Al-Aqsa Brigades formerly wanted by Israel, who would only be identified as N, was also in the city center yesterday.

"The security forces worked all night, up to five in the morning," he said. "They really went wild. Everyone linked to Hamas was arrested."

Most of N's anger was reserved for Hamas itself. "Of course Hamas is behind the attack. It reminds me of Arafat's days - every time he came close to a political gain they blew up the peace talks with an attack," he said.